Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Driving Out Plot and Getting in the Zone: author profile of Edward Patterson

Next in our Author Profile series, here's some writing wisdom from Edward C. Patterson!

Authors are a sharing lot. They want to reach out and touch someone, specifically a reader.

However, if you ask any author how they do that, you will get a variation on a theme — some responses filled with passion, while others chock full of hooey. They will disagree on basic aspects.
Some feel that novels should be plot driven, while others favor characters. Some like spare writing, while others favor a detailed revelation of their research. Sometimes the genre dictates the approach. Sometimes not.

In any event, there are as many approaches as there are reader preferences. Once an author settles into a style, that style can develop into a brand that permeates a bookshelf at a hundred yards.

I am not peculiar in this respect. I have been writing for over fifty years and authoring for over forty. Through trial and error and exposure to the masters and the wannabees (editors, agents and publicists), I have developed a flexible style in creating a story that reaches out to touch someone.

I believe a story sits at the base of a novel and is developed, not plotted. In fact, the word plot is a misnomer. It emerges when an author builds a strict set of tracks for the readers, the characters and the story to follow. This comes from outlining, and in many cases, over development.

Plot is a misnomer because overdevelopment of plot usually underdevelops a novel. Characters are constrained or forced to arc by the author’s command rather than by their natural inclination. Readers are constrained, their imaginations dampened by the one-way street of plotting instead of the two-way street of creativity. Dialog forwards plot and not character. Description is anchored to one or two senses (usually sight, and occasionally touch) instead of the five that make the story vibrant. Narrative becomes a matter of point A to B, instead of an opportunity to engage the reader with humor and irony.

Story is the product of character, settings and events, and all the interaction between these. The author is a conductor, waving a baton over a score of knowledge and sturdy craft, orchestrating that time frame when the elements come together and resonate into a story. The finished product is the sum of that time frame (the Zone) and several revisions whereby the author polishes the whole with a gemologist’s skill.

The final result — the part that reaches out and touches the reader, is an amalgamation of draft, revision and refinement. If the reader is lucky, much of the draft — the heart and soul of the work, will remain and not be whittled away by the necessary cuts, the logical balance, the thematic implantation and the grammatical corsetry that revision and refinement entail. The draft is born in the Zone, and if some of the Zone touches the reader, there will be a heightened sense of allegiance to the work. However, and this is unfortunate, no matter how hard authors try, the reader can never experience the Zone.

The Zone is a place where true authors dwell. Getting there is a journey. It is where the story world becomes so real that the characters write their own dialog and rain can be felt and the sea can drown you. There is an accentuation — a narcotic, if you will, that allows the mind, heart and soul to unite and slay page after page with the rich cream of virtual reality. In fact, virtual reality is the closest I can think of to describe the feeling.

Authors use different methods to get into the Zone (and we don’t always get there in every writing session). Stephen King uses heavy metal music. Jane Austen used isolation. Hemmingway used hard alcohol. I use classical music, isolation and . . . well, no alcohol, but cookies, preferably Veronas (Apricot) and Milanos. Most authors that I know prefer isolation or a special place. I can write anywhere, and have gotten into the Zone without the music or the Milanos, but the experience is different, akin to being on the edge of the forest, peeking in rather than frolicking with the flora and fauna. A good sign that an author is in the Zone is that we speak in the voices of our characters. Dickens did a mean Sarah Gamp. I do a wonderful drag queen.

So if you should pass by my window while I’m in the Zone, don’t report me as being some Son of Sam crazy, who hears voices commanding me to write novels. It’s just a symptom of the art and thankfully, it’s incurable. However, as much as I try to reach out and touch readers, I, like my fellow authors, jealousy guard the gates to the forest, where our children are born and the stories gush from the rocks and rills without plot. We are not gods and goddesses after all, but mere artists high on music and chocolate covered cookies.


  1. Edward, I agree almost word for word. The first time I got into the Zone it was like being on drugs. The flow of words, voices, situations, sensations, was overwhelming and I was unable to write down as fast as I wanted to so much was coming to me. I was pulled by the story, I was witnessing what the characters were saying and reacting to the situation, and yes, I had vivid vision of the world that was blossoming right in front of my eyes.

    I became unaware of the passing of time and realized with a shock that it was dark outside, and the window in my home studio is will within my visual arc.

    Incidentally, the other day I was writing on my FB page:
    Truth of Writing
    The truth of the matter is that the creative act doesn’t fulfill the ego but changes its nature. As you write you are less the person you ordinarily are—the situation confers strength.

    You learn to trust what comes to you unbidden. You learn to trust the act of writing itself. An idea, an image, a voice, comes to you as a discovery, and you don’t possess what you write any more than the mountain climber possesses the mountain.

    Writers write by trying to find out what it is they’re writing.

    -- E. L. Doctorow

    Aren't these such revealing words... In the process of writing Daimones, and even more while writing the sequel "Once Humans", things happens in the mind of those who are writing, and the work surge to its own life.

    One becomes truly a narrator, reporting images, voices, events discovered while they are being written. The writer becomes the first reader of the story and very true, you don't possess the story, the story is already there, you're just another reader...

    What happened to me was the development of a mental-eye for intra-personal relationships. I listened more carefully to dialogues, registered the body language, how the feeling and sensations were expressed. I learned without realizing consciously that I was learning.

    One becomes more sensitive to people and situations, and conflicts. Then, I had been able to put conflicts, situations, and characters together—and the way they would have reacted to the above—in a meaningful, believable form.

    And yes, one hear voices and smells things. The mind in the Zone takes you somewhere else and I believe this is the only way a reader could "feel" the imaginary world while reading a story, as if the writer had been truly there...because it is true, we've been there.

  2. heehee! When I'm in the zone I look like I'm lip reading and staring at ghosts!

  3. Thanks all for the commnets. As authors we must tell the story first to ourselves and it is in the ZONE where the muse rides on a silvery uniforn and a fiery dragon's back.

    Edward C. Patterson

  4. I love your description of the ZONE. It's a wonderful place to be and we can always hope that readers can at least touch the ZONE as they read.